- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2002

WARRENTON, Va. — If you can't smell the livestock, you are not at an authentic county fair.By that standard, the 52nd annual Fauquier County Fair, spread over 10 acres of open field here at the end of July, is the real deal. Dairy cows abound. So do rabbits, llamas, alpacas, floppy-eared dairy goats, sheep and hogs among them a huge, brownish-gray potbellied pig named Peanut Butter. Everywhere the sound of mooing, like a deep, wailing saxophone, bounces on.
It's been fair time in Maryland and Virginia since July, and through the end of September the symphony of the animals will continue notably this weekend in Gaithersburg, where the Montgomery County Fair starts its eight-day run.
This is a slice of America that persists here amid the grueling heat of summer. Norman Rockwellish it may be, but it's something we dare not let go of because it's so real. This year's Fauquier fair features 289 exhibitors with 1,695 entries in 351 classes.
For Warrenton, it becomes a big family reunion, with a sense of camaraderie among people who perhaps haven't seen one another all year. And beneath it all, there lurks the spirit of competition, whether it's for the best raspberry jam or the best dairy cow.
It's not all livestock, of course. Loud music by country, and rhythm and blues bands blasts from a pavilion. Craftspeople show their wares. Businesses and political candidates boost themselves at outdoor booths. Mornings, the Bealeton Remington Ruritan Club welcomes everyone to its pancake breakfasts. Evenings, there's a $10 fried chicken dinner with beans, salad and brownies to benefit People Helping People.
And as has been and always will be, children dart back and forth. Young girls chatter in small cliques. Boys show off to them by getting into slap fights with each other. Tiny girls look into animal pens, holding onto ice cream cones filled with round, white scoops almost as big as they are.
"He needs a haircut," screams one girl, pointing to a sheep.
Small tractors buzz around everywhere. Groups of men stand by themselves, wearing big black cowboy hats, wallets with chains attached and cigarettes dangling from their lips less the Norman Rockwell subjects than the Marlboro men.

Like the Montgomery fair, the Fauquier fair is an outgrowth of the 4-H ("head, heart, hands and health") Club, the national organization with the goal of training young Americans in the agricultural arts. Leaders of the local club wanted a way for young members to exhibit their animal, garden and other projects. So in 1950, the Fauquier County Fair began.
Even today, the core of most county fairs is the young people, the 4-H members or the Future Farmers of America. The Fauquier 4-H Club's livestock show, for example, features rabbits, goats and dairy cows. And the adult farmers bring their animals, and homemakers bring their jams, because they hope to inspire young people to get involved with such rural traditions. One can look at it either as a display of a disappearing way of life, or as a demonstration of how agrarians boldly thrive in the face of an increasingly urban, high-tech society.
Certainly here, what city slickers think of as country ways seem to be winning. The Fauquier fair seems bereft of cell phones and laptops. A visitor can drive down a two-lane road away from Lee Highway and onto the grass parking area, and wave to the good ol' boys dressed in light green and orange playing traffic cop, flapping big orange flags.
"Hey! Are you handicapped?" one attendant straight out of "Mayberry RFD" yells to an errant driver.
At the fairgrounds, the yellow-and-white-striped tents look haphazardly scattered like a set of jacks. The Food Court taking up one quarter of the grounds comes first. Folks hawk ice cream cones, hot dogs, hamburgers, pies, popcorn and the perennial, deep-fat-fried, golden-brown completely non-nutritious funnel cake. Some law must require every carnival or fair in the world to sell those.
The odor of burnt meat hangs over all; billowing into the skies is a black cloud of meat smoke as thick as a cow. An announcer tells fair-goers to buy raffle tickets for the chance of winning a Winchester rifle. A poster near an oval track promises a game on Sunday called cow-pie bingo, which piques the imagination.
Suddenly, to the left, a fair-goer sees a big sign painted in red hanging from the top of a 30-foot Empire camper trailer: "Drag Racing Stinkers." It's a must-see.
Tim Feimster, 23, from Jackson, N.J., stands in front of the camper trailer, shouting through his head-set microphone. In front of him is a 25-foot-long stainless-steel track with two separate paths. A horseshoe of people three deep has gathered around this track to watch the spectacle.
Mr. Feimster will put two skunks in separate boxes on the tracks, open the doors and see which one wins in a race around the track. As a warm-up, he puts two little boys in Big Wheels and has them race along the track across barely navigable gravel. An equally small girl waves a black-and-white checkered flag. The crowd gets into the hoopla, even though it is not the skunk race that was promised.
Then Mr. Feimster heads to a Don's John next to the camper trailer. He calls it his "Skunk Condo." Reaching inside, he pulls out two fluffy, black and dirty-white skunks, Orville and Einstein. People crane their necks to see.
"Are you ready for some skunk races?" he screams hoarsely. The crowd roars. Mr. Feimster drops the skunks into wooden boxes and opens their doors. The skunks scamper across, bouncing from side to side. The crowd screams in amused curiosity. They've seen cows and pigs but not too many skunks.
"Skunks are interesting animals," Mr. Feimster says after the show, standing on the other side of the camper trailer, with lawn chairs set up. "You either see 'em or you don't see 'em. You usually don't see 'em, but when you do, they're road kill."
Mr. Feimster has spent seven summers doing this job. He makes documentaries the rest of the year. He got into this business through his father ("My father's crazy," he says, shaking his head.) The family business also includes pig racing, guinea pig racing and rock-carving shows.
The skunk show is pretty tame, and it carries its share of rules. Mr. Feimster carries two baby and four adult skunks with him. Customers aren't allowed to touch the skunks. Though skunks spray only when they suspect they're endangered, the spraying glands of the racing animals are removed when they are 4- to 6-weeks-old. That must be done, Mr. Feimster says, because a skunk is so accurate that it could hit a person "dead square in the eye."
"If the skunks sprayed, it would clean out this fairground," the goateed Mr. Feimster says looking around. "The smell carries up to three miles."

In the livestock tent the porky Peanut Butter spends most of his time burrowing his upturned snout further into the corner of his pen. Sheep lie sleepily in their cage; one even wears its own special jacket. One pen displays the stoic llama; another holds furry alpacas. Hay bales lie atumble everywhere.
The livestock tent offers danger only if you stand in the wrong spot. A framed sign over every stall reads, "Cows May Kick." That means: Don't be fooled by the friendly wagging of the brushlike tails.
Eric Burkholder, 20 of Warrenton, moves about nonchalantly in the stalls of Brenda Rich, 43 of Casanova. Because he's a friend of the Rich family, Mr. Burkholder likes helping out during the fair. He says he has been through the 4-H program.
"It has taught me good people skills," Mr. Burkholder says, holding a pitchfork. "It also teaches to help everyone else out no matter what."
A fan whirls overhead. Just then, one of the beef cattle that Mr. Burkholder is tending backs up. He slaps it on the rear. It lets go with a sloppy variation on cow-pie bingo. Mr. Burkholder immediately reacts with a shovel. Such are the hazards of being around animals.
Heck, that's the easy part of the job, Mr. Burkholder says. Some of them get "a little wild. You have to grab hold of the rope and hold tight" to calm an animal that's at least twice your weight.
Mrs. Rich's three children have been through or are going through 4-H programs. This is her sixth fair as a 4-H parent. She swears by the program.
"It teaches a lot," she says, watching her children guide the animals into their straw-spattered stalls. "Responsibility, money management, health care. And they might make so much money they can put it in the college fund or help buy a car."
Kelly Mayhugh, 15, of Culpeper, used to show dairy cows but had to give it up when she moved, and she still misses Fauquier.
"I love it. I wish I could do it again," she says. "Fauquier's dairy program is so much better than Culpeper's." She even liked the part involving getting up early to take care of the cows.
Mrs. Rich is also president of the fair board, so her interest extends beyond the livestock tent. She motions to the 120-by-80-foot steel building, finished just before this year's fair.
Inside the new building are all kinds of crafts: produce, preserves, artwork. The produce entries are watched over by silly burlap scarecrows. Large juicy tomatoes sit next to small, symmetrically formed pumpkins that could fit in the palm of a hand. The blue-ribbon winner is a bunch of 20 bulging blackberries, nearly perfect and an inch in diameter.
"I wish my produce looked that good," says a Warrenton resident who prefers anonymity. "The outstanding problem here was a drought, because we could have had bigger tomatoes."
A silent auction takes place on one side of the room. On the other side, near the produce, are flowers. A wooden bridge over a bubbling pool holds entries such as orange lilies, yellow marigolds and pink roses. In a corner is a case of fist-sized jars of preserves, row on row.
Standing in front of the preserves is Kathy Morris, 43, of Warrenton, and her friend Donna Felton, 40, of Manassas. Ms. Morris is inspecting her sparkling jarred entries: three sets of pickles, including the bread-and-butter kind, tomatoes, salsa and snap beans. She began five or six years ago as soon as she got a garden.
"She's so good at it," Ms. Felton says.
"You have to read the recipe," Ms. Morris says in a matter-of-fact tone. "Make sure you sterilize your jars. Have clean ingredients."
Her favorite is her dilly beans, green beans spiced with dill. She says the process takes about two weeks. But the results can last for a long time. She picks up one jar and points to the bottom: "August 2, 2001."

Step across the brown mulch and gravel path and into the big tower-ladder vehicle of Warrenton Volunteer Fire Department No. 1. A husky Wade Kastorff of Marshall, with a mustache and short brown hair, talks with deep feeling about his company. He has 15 years in fire department work, starting in California, and he says he always wanted to be a firefighter.
"You've got to have it in your heart," he says. "I like to help people. It's like that way for most firefighters."
Children, he says, are excited when they come up to the firetrucks. And even adults, he adds, get a thrill out of sitting in the driver's seat. A born salesman, Mr. Kastorff ends up trying to recruit the adults for his department. All it takes, he says, is commitment and common sense.
Beneath the wide tent set up by the Liberty United Methodist Church of Warrenton, youngsters hang out trying to annoy their parents. The parents sell hamburgers, hot dogs, chili dogs and "a lot of fries," says Michael Plant, 44 of Midland.
"We sold a lot of pies at an auction we hold every year," he says. "People have come up here and said, 'We bought your pies and, well, we're interested in your hamburgers, too.'" He points down the table to plastic-wrapped pie resting comfortably at $8 a pop: blueberry, apple and cherry. He says 10 women bake the pies and that the results speak for themselves.
"They've gotten rave reviews," Mr. Plant says. "We had one lady from New York calling for a recipe."

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